It should be no surprise that developing farmland has a significant impact on the sustainability of the land and on our agricultural system as a whole.  If you’re sure you wish to develop the land, there are reasons to continue to encourage sustainability on the leased property during the years preceding development as farm practices will continue to affect natural resources, both on the farm and off.  Also, the development itself can be done in a manner that lessens any negative impacts on the land’s overall sustainability and that even allows for the continued agricultural use of at least part of the property.

Developing your property for commercial or residential use is, of course, going to decrease your tenant’s tenure security, at least on part of the land.  If you are considering developing your land, you will not likely enter a long-term lease with your tenant, unless of course your development plans are several years down the road, or you plan to incorporate agricultural uses as part of the development.  Continued sustainability depends on long-term planning.  Talk with your tenant about the possibility of development and what that could mean for the operation.  While they may not be pleased to hear the amount of land available will be reduced, the ability to plan for change can aid in the continuance of the relationship.

If part of the property is still used for agriculture, you will most likely want to protect your farm tenant’s ability to farm productively while ensuring the agricultural activities do not adversely effect the residential or commercial appeal of the property. There are a few ways in which this can be done.

The Farm Lease

  • To both ensure the land is farmed sustainably and to ensure that agricultural activities do not interfere with the residential or commercial appeal of the development.
  • For example, you might pay particular attention to provisions limiting the number of livestock in a given area and ensuring that natural amenities such as streams are not accessible to livestock.

Easements

  • To ensure the agricultural portions of the development remain agricultural.

Deed Restrictions and Covenants

  • To ensure the uses and structures on the developed portion of the property do not interfere with the productivity of the farmland.
  • You might also consider addressing the ability of residential dwellers to engage in certain agricultural activities on their lots, such as keeping chickens.

Disagreements and lawsuits often arise where residential development and agriculture meet.  Iowa, as well as many other states, has adopted laws to address the potential for such conflicts.  Particular attention should be paid to such laws.

Right to Farm Laws

  • These laws do not prohibit development of farmland, but they may provide incentives or other means of encouraging the preservation of agricultural land.
  • A popular incentive used is an exemption for designated agricultural areas from nuisance suits due to agricultural activities. Iowa Code Section 352 enables the creation of county land preservation and use commissions with the authority to adopt such plans.
  • Another tool used to preserve farmland is an exemption of agricultural property from zoning laws. Iowa has such a law in Section 335.2 of the Iowa Code.

Farmland Mitigation Statutes

  • Such statutes require developers to preserve a certain amount of farmland for each acre of farmland lost to development.
  • The use of this method is growing in certain states, but it is not currently used in Iowa.

Additional Resources:

The Farmland Information Center is a clearinghouse for information on farmland protection and stewardship. This resource provides state-by-state laws, as well as many other sources of information, regarding farmland preservation.

The Liberty Prairie Foundation provides the “Building Communities with Farms” brochure that includes information and case studies for landowners, developers, and farmers on incorporating agriculture into residential communities.